We use it to measure time, to take stock of landmarks in our lives when more conventional counting won't suffice, as a semi-secret code for those in the know. "Three apartments, a city and two kids ago." Or "I was in college when..."
Now Alex Ovechkin's career has reached yet another unbelievably believable milestone of its own, a 500th goal crafted with much of the same powerful beauty as the 499 that preceded (and the one so far that has succeeded) it. This was Ovechkin's moment, embraced with the same man-child charm as the first one, just with a bit more "man" than "child" this time around.
This was Ovechkin's moment, to be sure. But it's also yours. It's also ours. Like a lost verse from the Woody Guthrie song - from The Goal in Glendale to the disappointments, from all those trophies to the dueling hat tricks, from the gap-toothed smile to number 500, this man was made for you and me.
What Alex Ovechkin has gone through along the way, we've all gone through, in a very real (sometimes perhaps more real) sense. When they wrote that Ovechkin retiring to the KHL would be a "blessing in disguise for the Caps," or or that he should be stripped of his captaincy because he doesn't get it and he never will, or that Washington doesn't deserve Ovechkin or that the Caps should be relocated because "fans in Houston or Kansas City, or even Waterloo, Ontario, would appreciate [Ovechkin] a whole lot more," they were taking shots at him, at the organization, at you... at us.
How many consecutive sellouts ago was all of that?
And yet Caps fans move through their lives, occasionally exchanging knowing glances or nods when they see that familiar logo adorning another in a town that with a straight face can still debate whether one of the greatest athletes to ever play his sport is the greatest athlete to play here because that sport is hockey. Don't ask a fellow Washingtonian who owns the number eight in D.C. - you might not "like that."
So there Alex Ovechkin was on a Sunday night when another sports flame was extinguished across town, center stage for a group of fans who have always somehow simultaneously craved more recognition for their latest savior while at the same time keeping him all to themselves, appreciating him as they appreciate the sport as no casual consumer can. To that end, Ovechkin has delivered a nearly unparalleled entertainment value, even as we're all too aware of what has eluded him to date.
But for more than a decade, Alex Ovechkin's triumphs have been our triumphs, his heartaches our heartaches, because that's what sports fandom is. That connection is irrational and downright silly if you stop to think about it for a moment, but it's also real. Very real. If you felt as if you had achieved something on Sunday night, you're not wrong. Whether or not you're a fan that refers to the team in the first person, we have been witness to something special in a way that most observers have not. So congrats on number 500, Caps fans - you've earned it. Now let's see what the next "three apartments, a city and two kids" holds.